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A Desert Circus

Exploring Nipton’s transformation as Spiegelworld puts its stamp on the town outside of Vegas

An hour outside of Las Vegas, in the middle of the California desert, wacky circus-style shows are performed for locals and visitors. Before they hit the big stages of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the high-flying acrobatics, over-the-top costumes, and teams of the best performers in the world are all on display in the small desert town of Nipton, California.

The shows are created and produced by Spiegelworld, the theater company responsible for “Absinthe,” “OPM,” and “Atomic Saloon” in Las Vegas, as well as Atlantic City’s “The Hook.”

But these aren’t your average shows, and Spiegelworld is not your average theater company.

Founded by Ross Mollison, Spiegelworld has created its own brand of off-the-wall spectacles. More than a stage show, the creators invite guests to step into an alternate universe for an evening, whether they’ve stumbled into a raunchy old western complete with a Romeo and Juliet-style love story with a twist, or have found their way into the Green Fairy Garden where absinthe cocktails of the same name are served before the show.

The need for a gathering space for their oddball ideas and purchasing the 80 acres on the east side of the railroad tracks that make up Nipton proper simply made sense. And they aren’t just using it as a meeting space. Before shows make their debut, they are first revealed to Nipton locals—and anyone else who can get their hands on a ticket, if they are lucky enough, because they sell out fast.

Located on the northwestern border of the Mojave National Preserve, just 12 miles southeast of Primm, Nevada, the desert town plays host to shows for a night or two before they move on.

The way Mollison tells it, the “Schitt’s Creek”style acquisition of Nipton could have been a scene straight out of a movie. In his eyes, the hopefuls bidding against him included a cigar smoking, Rolls Royce-driving businessman and a billionaire dentist from a faraway land.

Whether those details are 100 percent factual is up for debate; the scene, after all, doesn’t sound far off from one of Mollison’s circus-style spectacles.

“I’m a real desert guy,” the Aussie laments. “The circus [as he refers to Spiegelworld] needed to be grounded somewhere.”

So, for those that thought the purchase of Nipton was perhaps a PR stunt, they haven’t heard of Mollison’s 10,000-year plan—because that’s exactly how long he plans to grow Nipton.

When Mollison flies in from his New York apartment, he stays in the desert town where several miners living in RVs and desert tortoise breeding grounds are amongst neighbors. And while the focus was to have a central location to brainstorm ideas, the town itself is getting a heavy dose of the team’s attention.

“We’re rebuilding the billabong,” Mollison says. And for those unfamiliar with Australian slang, he’s referring to the centerpiece of Nipton proper—a lily pad-filled pond that sparkled before it turned into a garbage-filled, muddy hazard. “We are repairing everything really.”

Two years after purchase, garbage clean-up has been a major task. Over 300 tons of garbage, including dilapidated motor homes and old railroad equipment, have been removed using more than forty 40-foot dumpsters.

Nipton's team partners with locals and the National Park Service for community clean-ups. Rejuvenating the pond is part of efforts to restore the ecosystem.

Mollison says, "It's a lot more organized ... it's a lot more compliant with regulations. I think it's going to have a bright future."

While focusing on restoration, Nipton is also being developed as a stopover between towns and Las Vegas. By year-end, the first accommodations will open: A renovated 1950s caravan serving as hotel rooms. The team is also restoring The Hotel California (to be renamed The Nipton Hotel), a general store, and adding a restaurant with an executive chef. These new amenities will cater to guests and locals, with the team aiming to be "stewards of this place" and building a good rapport with the community.

In line with Spiegelworld's creative reputation, there's a heavy focus on restoring artwork and inviting artists to create new pieces in a free-spirited, Burning Man-style atmosphere. This includes a 25-foot jellyfish sculpture with a climbable staircase and plans for a Nipton sculpture park.

Some set pieces, designs, and props are also created in the desert, utilizing the open space before transporting the final designs to Las Vegas.

Like their Vegas activations, Nipton itself will likely never be "completed," with concepts constantly evolving to keep things fresh under the team of creatives.

And while everything Spiegelworld does is decidedly different from its last project, their collaborative experiences keep it all on brand. From inappropriate fairies faking it on stage to penguins posing with patrons in an Aspen-style speakeasy, it all—just like Nipton—has a Spiegelworld stamp we can’t quite explain.